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Wheels in pop music

It’s probably no surprise, given the often iconic relationship of cars and bikes to all our lives, that this central role has been reflected down the years in pop music - that relentless chronicle of modern culture.

Spotting themes and references in pop songs is always quite good sport, so here’s a selection of wheel and tyre themed references from my own record collection. It’s a game anyone can play and I’m sure you’ll have suggestions of your own for inclusion in our hypothetical chart countdown.

Tyres

First up, Billy Joel’s “It’s still rock and roll to me”, in which song Billy has an imaginary conversation with his alter ego about the essential nature of being “cool”. “Should I buy a set of white-wall tyres, muses Billy; “Are you gonna cruise the Miracle Mile?” enquires his sardonic other self. With a great selection of budget tyres for all vehicles, the more worldly- wise version of Billy Joel would surely have approved of Avatyre’s approach to online tyre buying.

“Sky blue and black” is a track on Jackson Brown’s excellent “I’m Alive” album which relentlessly dissects his failed relationship with actress Daryl Hannah. “You’re the colour of the sky reflected in each store front window pane/you’re the whispering and the sighing of my tyres in the rain/you’re the hidden cost and the thing that’s lost in everything I do/yeah, and I’ll never stop looking for you.” Soul baring self-analysis was rarely catalogued more ruthlessly or effectively.

Tyre sound effects have been around in pop music for a long time. The screech of tyres which marked the end for the eponymous biker anti-hero in the Shangri-Las’ “Leader of the Pack” was an early example. The joy rider’s squealing radials in the Pet Shop Boy’s “One more chance” arguably integrated the sound of tyres under protest in a way that’s rarely been bettered.

Burning Rubber

The idea of tyre abuse as in “burning rubber”, both literally and metaphorically, has made an impression on lyricists too, as witness The Gap Band’s paean unexpectedly robust feminine rejection “Burn Rubber on Me”; “Never ever had a lover/put the pedal to the metal/and burn rubber on me, Charlie, oh no”. A few decades later, we discover that the girl in question may well have been Pink – in “Get This Party Started”, she indicates that she, too, is no stranger to incautious use of the accelerator and damn the consequences for the tyres; “Boulevard is freakin’ as I’m comin’ up fast/I’ll be burnin’ rubber, you’ll be kissing my….” Yes, Pink, I think we get the message!

Wheels

Where would tyres be without wheels? For heavy metal rockers, Saxon, it was Wheels of Steel – “I’ve got a 68 Chevy with pipes on the side/you know she’s my idea of beauty, that’s what I drive/She’s got wheels of steel”.

For Bruce Springsteen in his peerless anthem to the allure of the highway, Born to Run, there was a little more polish in; “Chrome wheels, fuel injected and stepping out over the line”.

Paul McCartney had a slightly more quirky tale to tell. “Helen Wheels” was, apparently, the nickname for the McCartney family Land Rover, the ambiguous nature of the moniker (hell on wheels?) suggesting that Paul’s relationship with the vehicle wasn’t entirely harmonious.

Speaking of less than harmonious McCartney relationships, his gentle response to his old sparring partner, John Lennon’s caustic “How do you sleep?” the considered and restrained “Let Me Roll It” (“I can’t tell you how I feel/ My heart is like a wheel, let me roll it to you”), is one of those personal moments in pop music that’s “Guaranteed to raise a smile” as one other Beatles lyric would have it.

There you go, then. That’s my stab at a top ten; why not see whether you can come up with a better list?